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Mother of murder victim reacts to lawsuit against Liberty University

Gil Harrington’s daughter Morgan was murdered by Jesse Matthew, who is named as an alleged assailant in the case
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 12:22 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The mother of a murdered Virginia Tech student is reacting to the sexual violence lawsuit filed against Liberty University.

Jesse Matthew, who killed Morgan Harrington in 2009, is accused of attacking a teenager years earlier at Liberty. Now Gil Harrington says if those accusations were handled differently by the university, her daughter might still be alive.

“She was such a beautiful girl, wasn’t she?” Harrington said, while looking at photos of Morgan. For this mother, the memories live strong.

“She was like champagne,” Harrington said. “She was bubbly and it was a party when she was there.”

Morgan Harrington went to a concert at the University of Virginia October 17, 2009. The Virginia Tech student was last reported seen outside the arena. Three months later, her remains were found on a nearby farm, a bracelet still around the bones of her wrist.

“Police returned it to me. This the most precious thing to me now, to think she was wearing it when her heart stopped beating,” Harrington said.

The 20-year-old’s life was snatched by Jesse Matthew, who is now serving four life sentences for her murder and the death of UVA sophomore Hannah Graham.

However, nearly a decade before Harrington was killed, Matthew is accused of attacking another young girl. The details are laid out in a lawsuit against Liberty University filed in federal court in New York Tuesday.

Twelve women are accusing the university of mishandling reports of sexual assault and creating an unsafe campus. The lawsuit makes several claims under Title IX, alleging a strict honor code at Liberty University known as “The Liberty Way” makes it “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence.

Jane Doe 12, one of the dozen plaintiffs, claims that happened to her. In the lawsuit, she says she was just 15 years old and attending a summer camp when Matthew carried her into a bathroom, violently groped her, and tried to strangle her.

It is hard for Harrington not to draw parallels.

“She now is the age that Morgan would be,” she said.

The lawsuit also argues that Liberty University’s sexual assault investigations are weighted in favor of the men accused, not the female accusers.

Doe 12 claims when she reported the crime, campus police forced her to ride in a car with Matthew to the station. She alleges LUPD interrogated her for hours and accused her of making up the story.

In the lawsuit, Doe 12 also claims police denied her request to be sent to a hospital to collect forensic evidence, and instead pressured her to be photographed naked by a female debate coach.

“I think the system failed her,” Harrington said.

She adds if the allegations are true, it was Liberty’s duty to protect female students, including Jane Doe 12.

“Liberty University had an investment in Jesse Matthew. He was on a full scholarship there as a football player. They did not have an investment in this young woman,” Harrington said. “I hope that she can see herself as not just a survivor of, but perhaps one of the lucky ones, because he did not kill her.”

Harrington says because Matthew left two colleges, including Liberty, after facing sexual violence accusations, she wants to see national legislation that would require records of alleged assault to be visible on college transcripts.

”He caused a lot of harm and damage in the years that he hid in plain sight,” she said.

Liberty University did not respond to requests for comment, but did release a statement Tuesday that says “the University is looking into each of the claims made in the lawsuit, to determine what needs to be done to make things right.”

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